The Wu-Tang Clan are 20 years old. And unlike other musicians who've made it to the double-decade mark, they've never had to rely on endlessly repackaging greatest hits albums or playing matinee shows in theatres to keep the dream alive. That might well be because they're the greatest hip-hop group of all time, as well as the fact that there's little point in releasing compilations when you've got eight members pumping out new albums each year. They're still packing venues in exactly the same way they did when 36 Chambers was released.
Earlier this summer they completed the final leg of their 20th anniversary tour in London, so I arranged to meet with them in the lobby of a Shepherds Bush hotel. When I turned up, all eight members were milling around, and I sat down with U-God and Ghostface Killah to talk about politics, poverty, the past and pussy.
VICE: What do you think of Obama, globally and domestically?
Ghostface Killah: George Bush wouldn’t do the things he’s doing. Obama’s just a puppet – he’s a puppet in a chair. The gay marriage law – you think it’s fucked up? When he’s gone, they’ll blame it on him: the black president. He’s gonna be known as the first motherfucking black president [who] killed Osama and Gaddafi. Some of these guys was good, they were taking care of their country. People just voted him in because he's black. They don’t even know why they were voting for him – whether he was right or wrong.
What do you think of the gay rap scene?
I can’t knock gay rap, or retarded rap – whatever. Do what you do, I don’t really listen to it. I don’t really pay that no attention. Like I said, it’s not my cup of tea – to each his own. At the end of the day, we all people.
U-God, you recently mentioned that Kanye’s ego was getting stratospheric.
U-God: That’s what I say when I mean out of control [laughs]. His circle probably ain’t telling him shit. Like, “Nigga, no." Come back home, dog. Come back home, Kanye. Don’t be going space-cadet, man, because there’s nothing out there. We gonna lose niggas. Space is a vacuum.
What's your opinion on the gay rap scene?
Personally, I don’t give a fuck if you’re gay. That’s your business. That’s your sexual preference. But don’t come over here and make me gay – you ain't gonna force something on me, see? But if you cool, you talented and you gay? We can rock, nigga! We can drink, we can smoke, we can laugh. But don’t try and bring that shit over here. I like titties. I like titties. I like titties. I like two pair, I like four pair of titties at one time.
Method Man walks by and sits a few metres across the lobby.
He stinking out my bathroom. He just laid a big old turd in my toilet. No one dumps in my fuckin’ toilet. This guy’s doing dumps in my fucking toilet.
Method Man shouts, "Pathological" in our direction.
U-God: No, I’m not. Don’t believe a word he’s saying – he’s the one lying.
Method Man: He’s a pathological liar. His tongue is on steroids. By the time he was 15, he'd had every woman in our neighbourhood. Playboy. They like his light eyes and his brown skin.
Any ladies in London?
U-God: He [Method Man] gets more pussy than everybody, talking all that shit.
Okay, to business – tell me about the track on your new album Keynote Speaker, “The Room Keeps Spinning”.
I was fucked up. It was one of them nights when I was just, "Whoa, what the fuck is going on?" I think it was molly or some shit she gave me [in the lyrics] – some type of fucking shit. After I put it on my tongue, I couldn’t move – I was feeling like a vegetable. The first verse is about my girl drunk driving.
So it was a chaotic time in your life?
Well, without chaos you’ve got nothing to write about. Fuck you gonna write about if you’re staying at home not doin' shit? You can have snobbery all day – all day with butlers and maids – but what the fuck you gonna write about? It’s not gonna happen.
What do you guys think of cloud rap?
Ghostface: I give it to them – let them have they fun. When I was 18, 19, I had my fun.
They’re more into the purple drank kind of fun than I'd imagine you were.
Yeah! They more into party mode, they not so into lyrics. Like, we had lyrics – they into party mode. We had, “I grew up on the crime side / the New York Times side / staying alive was no jive.” You know, “C.R.E.A.M” and all that. It’s different lyrics, different times.
You think they haven’t seen poverty like you guys?
No, it’s just it changes. Everyone’s seen poverty – well, most have. Maybe they don’t have to go through the poverty that we went through. Now, I can buy my kids the new Jordans – we got it like that. But for our generation of kids, our mothers – they really didn’t have it like that.
Going back to those kind of times – U-God, how did you end up joining the Clan?
U-God: It was through Cappadonna. It was a weird situation, because I met RZA and – as time went on – we got close. But as a crew we didn’t have no beats, so we had to supplement beats with beatboxing.
How about your rhymes?
I was dibbling and dabbling, and RZA gave me my first couple of beats to take home, just to try out. And I killed them shits. Me, Meth and Deck; the name of the songs were, “I Get Down for My Crown”, “Let Me Put My Two Cents In” and a couple of others. We started spreading them around our group, they started spreading around the hood and it was like, “Yo!” – it had its own legs.
But the funny thing about it was that, at school, people would say, “Aw, you ain’t no Big Daddy Kane, you ain’t no Public Enemy, no EPMD." They didn’t know that we would become super-legendary.
How come you weren’t a big part of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)?
I got locked up [during the recording]. I got myself in the situation when I could have been a snitch and gone the fuck home, or I could have gone to jail. And I went to jail. My life could have been a lot different, know what I mean? I stuck to my morals, I did my time and I came home. It was typical shit that black people in the hood get locked up for, which was drugs and guns. I ain’t got no rapes, no robberies.
I remember for "Da Mystery of Chessboxin", RZA snatched me up and said, “You gotta rhyme on this!” And the next thing I know, I got locked up. Then that was it.
Ghostface on stage.
Do you remember where you wrote your verse for that?
No, but I know RZA orginally wanted it for another beat. But he wanted me to throw that verse on this beat. The rhymes I say right now – I don’t know where they come from. God just comes and gives me the words.
What happened to the old scene, when shit used to happen like ODB turning up at the Hammerstein Ballroom concert when the police were looking for him?
We were just coming out of the streets and just growing up. ODB was ODB – that’s that fly shit! There’s no more of that shit going on. It’s boring now; the game is boring. It’s just beef, it’s corny – there’s no antics. There’s no great shit anywhere. Everybody’s just driving cars and eating Grey Poupon [a brand of Dijon mustard]. It’s just snobby now – everybody’s all uppity and puppety. There’s no grimy, gritty shit goin’ on. Everything’s just got so Disney World.
Finally, throughout the years you've been together, people have tried to classify the overall Wu-Tang sound. What would you say to those people?
It’s hard to talk about the Wu-Tang style as a collective style. The thing about us is that everybody brings their own style, their own word play – Raekwon, Ghostface, whoever. When we on a posse cut, it’s power. This new album, Keynote Speaker, is my Illmatic. I love Nas, so with this album I’m trying to hold my flag up; the “W” – the “W” will keep flying. One of my boys might get wounded, but they not getting past my line, over my dead body. It’s not happening. Sergeant Hawkins is talking.
U-God's new album, Keynote Speaker, is out now.
See more of Verena Stefanie's work on her website.
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